How Non-Fungible Chateaus, Villas, and Monuments Could Help Rewrite History
In other news: governments (and Reddit!) are helping to build the bridge to a better Internet. Plus how AI is changing the creative/production cycle.
1/ The People’s UNESCO
It’s Fall 2022 and travel is back with a vengeance, but the return of travel comes with a price: CHAOS. Chaos to the tune of interminable waits, confusingly contradictory rules about masking and vaccines, piles of lost luggage, and the general mayhem of learning to coexist around people again.
Global tourism is more accessible now than ever before, though of course limited during the pandemic. And while travelers are back on the road (and proudly posting), you may be noticing that they all seem to be going to the same places, for the same reasons.
“[Positano] provided the backdrop for Diane Lane’s whirlwind romance in Under the Tuscan Sun. Twenty years later, the town has become synonymous with the grandest of influencer travelscapes, clogging Instagram with photos of beautiful people on boats, staring back in wonder at the skyline behind them. It is also the most unpleasant place I have ever been. This has little to do with the town itself, which has been home to resorts and villas for the European elite since the Roman Empire but contains only small traces of its ancient past; as our tour guide explained, ‘there is no history here, it is just for relaxing and for pictures.’ Fewer than 4,000 people live in Positano, and tourists outnumber them three-to-one.”
— Rebecca Jennings, “The Instagram capital of the world is a terrible place to be,” Vox, 2022.
Instagram has changed how we see the world in more ways than one. Contributing to thousands of listicles, city guides, and recommendations all claiming to offer the inside scoop on the most ‘grammable destinations in the world. But it’s also contributed to the let-down of let-downs once you actually make it to said destination and realize: everyone else has got the same idea. Often, the come-down leaves you with an experience that is all style, no substance.
It’s a depressing view on travel that Michelle Choi, founder of 3.O Labs is trying to address. Choi worked with the team charged with preserving historic Lobkowicz Palace in Prague to launch Non-Fungible Castle, an NFT exhibition and auction. The event saw NFTs displayed next to 500-year-old paintings — with the goal of “broaden[ing] accessibility to cultural heritage” — and perhaps more importantly — raising enough $$$ to cover urgent restoration projects around the property.”
Motivated by this successful proof-of-concept, Choi and 3.O Labs are now busily curating metaverse tourism experiences globally — including at “a castle in Germany, which will be followed by a villa in India and then possibly a museum in Ghana.”
And with #LearnOnTikTok having emerged as one of the most popular hashtags on the app, with more than 412 billion views — it’s interesting to think through the many possible ways web3 might be used to enhance our relationship with cultural destinations and objects.
“Travel will be augmented as a teaching tool. In the past, tourism meant visiting a place. Photos were 2D, but 3D travel then emerged with virtual headsets. 4D time experimentation is now possible. Now, we can mesh different time periods. There’s a teaching angle.”
— Michelle Choi, 3.O Labs
Beyond fundraising, projects like Non-Fungible Castle and Monuverse have found believers — both in those interested in preserving global monuments and in the caretakers of these historic estates.
Caretakers such as Priyadarshini Raje Scindia, whose family owns Jai Vilas Palace, a 200-year-old palace-turned-museum in Madhya Pradesh, India — a location that has a complicated past with colonialism that hasn’t fully been explored:
“I disagree with my family history. We have rooms of research documents in the palace. Now is the right time and the right platform to correct history [and] tell the real story of my clan, the Maharatas. Retelling the story told by the British, which sounds like a Game of Thrones book — dark and barbaric. We fought for independence from all exterior forces, yet it was made out that we were fighting Indians in India. It is a historic fact that the Maharatas were the rulers of India, post the Mughals. And their narrative and value system are even more essential to study and understand today. I would like to use the platform to change the narrative through art, culture and history.”
— Priyadarshini Raje Scindia
Scindia is planning an NFT collection produced by local artists to fund a metaverse experience after COVID-19 shut her museum for 2 years.
If history is written by the victors, the creation of DAOs for historical preservation is a chance to correct the oversight and downright whitewashing some of the “established” accounts represent. Giving the community — both local and global — a stake in correcting the accepted narrative, and helping to preserve the locations and objects that cannot be replaced.
2/ Crossing the Chasm: Papers, Please Meets PFPs
Web3’s cake day is up for debate, but the decentralized infrastructure serving as the foundation for a new internet is closer to a teen than an adult. And while the growing pains have been rough, Web3 is finally maturing and “crossing the chasm.”
Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm is a guide for marketers on bringing ‘high-tech products’ to the mainstream, and while web3 doesn’t have a CMO, we’re seeing some natural parallels in its development.
Right now, web3 as a demographic is very much in the ‘early adopter’ phase. A select subset of could be summed up as libertarian-leaning ‘crypto bros’ and speculators. But we’re quickly approaching the ‘chasm’ that Moore refers to. That is, the gap between those early adopters and the early majority.
Just look at South Korea, for example. We’ve already covered how advanced the gen pop is there when it comes to blurring the lines between virtual reality and reality reality thanks to the K-Pop Industrial Complex and the Hallyu Wave sweeping the global entertainment industry. Their citizenry is far more tech-forward —due to the state providing broadband connections to everyone as far back as 2010.
Now the government is looking to blockchain technology to replace state-issued identity cards in a very ‘web3’ way. Allowing citizens to maintain ownership of their identity.
The plan would also see the government adopt a decentralized identity system, meaning the government will not have access to information stored on phones, including the digital ID being used, how they’re used and where.
— Suh Bo Ram, Director-General of Korea’s Digital Government Bureau
Close neighbor Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party recently released a ‘Web3.0 Whitepaper’ outlining recommendations for catching up to countries it perceives as ahead in the “fierce global competition targeting the new digital economic frontier.”
Among them, the United States. The US has expressed a determination to lead in the space and has issued an executive order asking all government agencies to come up with a digital strategy. Separately at the same time, individual states like Wyoming are exploring how blockchain could improve elections.
All this work is not making mainstream news in a time when the the media has shifted its focus to more pressing concerns like the crumbling economy, inflation, elections, and oh yeah….the looming threat of nuclear war. But the web3 rails are being laid even while no one is watching.
The latest NFT/crypto crash is often compared to the Dot Com bubble which saw the vast majority of new internet companies fail. But those that survived became the Amazons, Googles, and Apples of the world. And those states that build towards a better vision despite the market conditions will see themselves better positioned on the other side.
While slower moving, innovative companies and institutions are beginning to roll out their own web3 strategies. These are already onboarding millions of unwitting (and in the case of Redditors…straight-up hostile) consumers to the space.
Reddit’s NFT avatar launch was probably the biggest ‘onboarding’ moment to date and led to the creation of nearly 3M wallets on the Polygon blockchain. NFT guru Giancarlo puts it very succinctly: “Reddit gave away NFTs to people that hated NFTs. They made money and now they like NFTs.”
At the same time, companies like Moonpay are making web3 far more accessible. The creation of a wallet and purchase of NFTs can occur with just a credit card — making it feel like a familiar e-commerce experience — and eliminating the anxieties of those who still perceive the space as rife with scams.
The demographics of web3 are about to change dramatically. In fact, as it “crosses the chasm,” the web3 “demographic” may cease to exist altogether. We certainly don’t refer to “the internet” as a demographic. According to a new study by Horizon Media, 91% of 18–25-year-olds say there's no such thing as 'mainstream' pop culture. For kids today, subcultures are the new demographics — and what is the Internet if not a motley universe of loosely-connected subcultures?
3/ How AI is Changing the Inspiration —> Production Cycle
Inspiration can come from anywhere. It’s a topic we’ve explored (at length) in ISSUE 002 of our DEEP OBJECTS series, but for further proof, just check out the posthumous collection of Masters of the Universe collectibles that dropped last week, c/o the late-great Virgil Alboh — an homage to the toys that shaped him as a youth.
Cala, a NY-based start-up that bills itself as “the first operating system for fashion,” announced Thursday that it would be supercharging it’s end-to-end offering with AI design powered by DALL-E. Users of Cala’s AI tools can generate new designs from text descriptions or simply upload a reference image to produce variations on the original.
As machine-learning upends creativity by exponentially multiplying the “inputs” that go into the process, how will the final “output” — or production cycle — be affected? Are we facing a future where fast-fashion trend cycles just hyper-accelerate our already growing addiction for chasing the “new and next?” Or is the democratization of fashion a wake-up call for all of us as a community to make more considered, and by extension — more responsible — choices by involving those who will ultimately wear the final threads earlier on?
Traditional fashion houses are established as top-down for a reason. There’s something to be said for having a singular voice and clarity of vision. If there is one person making all the key decisions, you operate from one voice. But the thing is, traditional fashion houses also have a small army at their disposal to translate ideas into final products:
Abloh had plenty of company in relying on a team to turn his concepts into clothing. Miuccia Prada doesn’t sketch and instead has a staff that translates her ideas. At Dior, Raf Simons would prepare files with images and inspiration to be used as the basis for sketches produced by his team. Rei Kawakubo has said she doesn’t sketch and that her design is “done mostly by words and imagination.”
— Marc Bain, “AI Is Designing Clothes Now,” Business of Fashion.
And it’s that intuitive form of design — by words or reference images — that Cala aims to replicate with AI. Even for those of us who don’t have a world-class team at our back.
Of course, the biggest hurdle for this model is that it doesn’t offer the same kind of instant gratification we’ve all become accustomed to thanks to our “2-day shipping” Amazon Prime conditioning. It will still take time to produce and ship the goods. Although Cala is streamlining that too.
The platform links users with a network of partner factories that can manufacture the clothes they design as well as a logistics network to handle shipping. From start-to-finish it will take about 120 days from the time a user submits a design for production to the time they receive the finished product for cut-and-sew items.
But of course the extra time the platform should save during the creation phase allows designers to involve the community: gauging interest in colorways, styles, and sizing so as not to over-produce and generate waste. AI can let brands easily conjure up whole collections and use the images to determine demand before deciding which pieces to manufacture. Operating this way could allow brands to reduce waste and save money by only producing what they know they can sell. Rather than guessing wrong and consigning the extras to a landfill. Hopefully, this new method of gauging demand will reduce the culture of obsolescence brands like SHEIN have created.
It’s one of the first signposts of a new democratic take on design. One that runs in opposition to the dictatorships of the traditional studio. A more circular, system for an increasingly connected world.
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